Trusty Weapon or Time Bomb?
Things you'll learn:
- The reason for taking a move inventory.
- How to inventory individual items.
- The importance of origin and destination inspection.
In this section we take a look at the process of (1) inventorying a customer's belongings at origin, (2) accounting for them at destination, and (3) noting any and all signs of damage along the way.
Gee. Sounds like a party about to happen.
Yes we know. But there are advantages to taking a proper inventory besides the mere joy of it all. At origin as well as at destination there are ways to protect both the customer and yourself from the loss and damage that occurs much more often than we'd like here in the moving biz. So below we've outlined some strategies that just may save the customer some grief and you some money.
Okay, let the party begin.
We were hoping you'd say that.
Taking Inventory: Trusty Weapon or Time Bomb?
Tag every piece. Number every piece. Write down a description and the condition of every single piece of the customer's world that is going on the truck. The process can seem little more than an exercise in humility. We can almost feel the customer watching us. We can hear them thinking: This vase is 800 years old and costs more than your life, nothing better happen to it...
But that might be just us and our guarded imaginations. It's interesting how little most customers seem to care about the inventory process at the front end of their move - they just want their stuff handled carefully and loaded onto the truck as quick as humanly possible (which would be made quicker with doughnuts but some customers don't seem to care about this either). At the back end they still want their stuff handled carefully, but those inventory sheets are now the center of the universe. At origin, #423 was an old, cob-webbed junior beer cooler emitting a curious aroma in the far corner of the garage. At destination the customer suddenly starts freaking out, ready to call the police and nail pictures of Junior on telephone poles all over town until he is found.
Excuse me, but...wouldn't it just be easier to make sure we don't lose anything?
Well there's an interesting thought. But not losing anything is, unfortunately, easier said than done. And while noting every item we move helps protect the customer against loss, an inventory list, when done right, also protects us movers against claims for damage we did not do - nicks in the dining room table legs that were there before we started loading as well as the crack in the picture frame that wasn't there when we left. It is imperative that we create a record of these things because, and let's be painfully clear about something right now, our word means next to nothing in the claims process.
Don't take it personally; it's just the nature of the beast. A beast that demands we keep thorough and accurate inventories. The task can be time-consuming and monotonous, but the potential cost of doing it halfway should be more than enough to keep us on our toes.
Throw some unscrupulous people into the mix and you really have reason to write like mad.
Yes. But before we delve into that catastrophe-in-waiting let's cruise through the ins and outs of wielding your inventory sheet like a claim-killing weapon.
Aside from the obvious first step of knowing what exactly we will be moving (because often enough we aren't taking everything), it is a good idea...no, a great idea...to have the customer point out any items of particularly high value. This will allow us to pay extra special attention to things we'd love most to avoid damaging (and subsequently replacing). Then we will want the customer to put a dollar amount on each item of high value and list this information on our High Value Inventory form. This will determine the extent of our liability should anything happen (yes, even after all our extra special attention).
We could probably get by without bothering to jump through these high value hoops. We could lump the customer's most precious and valuable things in with the rest of their shipment. Then if and when the time came we could just offer them what we are legally bound to pay them - meaning the thirty or sixty cents per pound per damaged article they may or may not have realized they had agreed to when they signed their things away.
Yes, let's avoid that pesky high value inventory form. That should save us some money on the move.
Maybe. But let's consider two things: One, it is only right to make up for that marble-top plant stand you let fall off the back of the truck. Two, the damage to your reputation can cost you a lot more than what you might save by ditching the high value form - that is, if that customer has anything to say about you in a review, and assume they will (and will not use nice names).
Besides, driving away while your customer stands there with her beloved marble-top plant stand in pieces in one hand and a piece of paper that entitles her to all of twelve dollars in the other does not feel good. (This writer has been in this exact situation, by the way).
Noting and listing items of high value makes us look professional, and provides us with the impetus to stay on our toes. And, as a Hire A Helper mover, it's also part of the deal.
But how do we know their stuff is valuable? We don't know what that painting or that kitschy bejeweled figurine is worth. We don't even know if there's actually a kitschy bejeweled figurine in the box they packed and wrapped up in four pounds of tape.
Good points. See? You are already on your toes. First of all, you will want to see for yourself each item the customer declares on the high value form. No matter that you can't make the determination yourself as to how valuable their valuables really are; you need to at least know that yes they do indeed have a kitschy figurine, it's about eighteen inches tall, it has jewel-looking things hanging all over and looks kind of like Lady Gaga. Later on, if the issue does arise, the customer will have to bear the burden of proof regarding how much their Gaga is (or was) actually worth.
Okay, so once we've gotten this high value stuff out of the way we can start numbering things and hauling them out to the truck, right?
Not so fast, Lightning. Even if you and your crew have already been given a walk-through of the house and you know what you will and will not be taking, you'll need some time before the hauling begins to start the process of protecting everyone.
While the crew begins protecting the customer's home by putting down floor protection and padding doorways and banisters, the guy doing the inventory will begin by noting any and all visible areas of damage on each piece he lists on the inventory sheet. We'll get to the nuts and bolts in a moment, but for now suffice to say that as soon as we begin picking things up and moving them we are, in the customer's eyes, about to break something. This means that before moving anything our trusted inventory-taker needs to make note of every potential land mine he can find.
Granted this sounds extreme - it is so we'll clarify in a second - but one small crack in one leg of one of six dining room chairs can turn into 'Hey they don't make those chairs anymore and I don't want mismatched furniture so you guys need to buy me a whole new dining room set.' At least this is what a particularly curmudgeonly customer could say if he were feeling curmudgeonly enough. In fact we've had customers say things like this before. And it sucks having to face buying someone a brand new leather sofa, loveseat, easy chair and ottoman because of one small tear in one back corner of one piece of furniture.
So really, it is impossible to overstate the importance of noticing and recording these things. True, the worn spots in the upholstery of that Lay-Z-Boy from the 70's might not be critical, but point out that cracked chair leg to the customer as you write it down on your inventory sheet. With the advent of the smartphone movers now have the ability to easily and readily photograph significant or potentially problematic areas of damage - and then show them to the customer to really head off any sneaky plans that might be swirling around in his head.
Cool, so now we get to talk about customers who are crazy off their rocker?
You are probably referring to that bit about unscrupulous people? This is not it, but we might as well mention that there always have been and always will be customers who on loading day will act totally nonchalant about the condition of their belongings - their furniture, their wall hangings, their hubcap collections - but then go to town when their stuff is unloaded and claim every scratch, scuff mark and spot of grease they can find with the magnifying glass they've been keeping in their pocket.
This does not mean we also need to keep magnifying glasses in our pockets; make note of every nick and spot on every single thing in the house and we'll never get the truck loaded. Noting that the old, battered, water-stained, wobbly chest of drawers in the garage is battered, water-stained and wobbly will virtually always do. But if that armoire has a scratch across the top of one side, is chipped along one bottom corner and/or one of the hinges on the door is slightly bent, it is a
good fantastic idea to make each of these things abundantly clear to the customer before padding that thing up.
Reduce Your Liability
While the guy doing the inventory is noting the condition of each item he is numbering, the guys getting the house ready can and should be noting any pre-existing damage to the walls, the doors and doorways, the banisters, fixed furnishings like kitchen cabinets and the ceilings. Yes that's right, the ceilings. Lifting or tilting those tall wall units in the living room, getting that king size headboard down the angled staircase, taking apart that shelving system in the garage - even if we are careful enough to never let anything touch let alone damage the ceiling, a customer can claim easily enough that we are responsible for that hole up there in the sheet rock if none of us has bothered or thought to look up before going to work. (Yes this too has happened to yours truly.) So just as we do with damaged furniture, bring these things to the customer's attention before moving anything. And again - take advantage of that 4G smart thing in your pocket and take a few pictures.
All right, so it will take some time for Jimmy to inventory all the furniture, so first we should have him number the boxes so we can start rolling them out to the truck, right?
Yes. And no. If your crew did the packing - or even some of the packing - these boxes should be ready to go. Of course clearing out all the boxes and loading them into tight, neat tiers on the truck will leave you with only furniture for the back half of the load, which will likely present a puzzling challenge. But besides this, if your customer has done some or all of his or her own packing you might want to pay attention. Most people don't know how to pack a kitchen or a stereo as well as you. And while you as the mover might have the legal upper hand when it comes to damage to an item or items inside a PBO, a box packed by owner (as opposed to a CP, a carrier-packed carton), it is always easier and better to avoid having to deal with an argument over fault.
If you notice something - a rattle or a clatter, a box half full of dishes and half full of air - offer a bit of advice and take a moment to pack that carton properly. Even as the customer is paying you hourly, he or she probably won't mind giving you five minutes to make sure their dinner plates don't arrive in crumbs.
Fine. Now can we please get this stuff tagged and loaded??
Sure. But be patient. Giving your inventory-taker the time he needs to do his job right protects the whole crew - perhaps not that day, but certainly as the customer's stuff makes its way to its new home, and quite possibly down the road where your company's reputation will bring you more or fewer jobs. And here is where we get more specific about those things your inventory-taker needs to tend to.
Inventorying Individual Items (also known as i, i, i...)
It begins easily enough: give an item a number and write down what it is. But consider that it helps to write a description of each item (in the column on the Hire A Helper inventory form titled, conveniently, 'article description'). So rather than simply writing 'chair' put an adjective or two in front. Dining room. Office. Wicker. O/S (overstuffed). Antique wooden. Metal folding. Buzz Lightyear. While there is no ostensible advantage in doing this for the loading phase of the move, being thorough in your inventorying will help when the truck is unloaded and an item has not been checked off. If that item reads 'chair' then you or someone will have to go check every chair in the place looking for the one with that number. If the item is specified as a Buzz Lightyear chair the task becomes much easier. One of the crew might even remember where he put it. Time saved and stress reduced.
So make it a habit to use adjectives. Tall bookcase. 2-drawer metal file cabinet. Kid's mountain bike. Budweiser clock. Doing so will only make the move smoother.
Cutting Corners Costs You
We see from time to time that how we work affects others more than it affects us, either positively or negatively. We can save ourselves some time by cutting corners - and doing so may never hurt us in any direct and tangible way. But none of us works in a vacuum. As a company listed on Hire A Helper you are part of a network - and a growing one at that. If your good work makes things easier for the HaH crew on the other end of a move, do you think they might remember you? Maybe. And they might even want to work with you down the road, or may refer you to someone else. On the other hand, if you do a shoddy job on the front leg of a move do you think the crew on the back leg will notice? Definitely. And will they remember? You bet. Then there is the customer, who will associate your substandard performance, on just one leg of the move, with Hire A Helper in general. And in the long run that hurts us all. We want to be the greatest, most kick-butt force in the moving industry. And a one-legged man can't win a butt-kicking contest.
So that's the long and short of article description. Now let's take a look at the sometimes-simple and always-crucial...
Condition at Origin
If you haven't already, take a good look at the example inventory sheet pcitured below, and the overpopulated boxes of abbreviations just above where we list the customer's goods. (If you are familiar with these codes, check again; we are always tweaking things to make them better.) We will confess that we haven't tried to reinvent the wheel here. We have tried - and continue to endeavor - to offer a balance of efficiency and ease of use. For the mover just starting to familiarize himself with these codes the process can seem a bit cumbersome. But those who have conquered them can attest to their advantages. Like any skill, learning to create a thorough inventory using abbreviations takes time. But learn, by any means. You will find it time well spent.
The Descriptive Symbols box contains a few handy abbreviations for common items as well as how some items are prepared. The most-used we will touch on in a moment - CP for Carrier Packed boxes, PBO for boxes packed by the customer, and MCU, which may sound like the acronym for a religious college outside of St. Louis but actually means mechanical condition unknown. This is used for electronics and other types of machines that may or may not work (and it is neither our business nor to our advantage to start turning things on to see if they do actually work).
Other handy abbreviations - handy in that they may help us avoid costly claims on items that have been taken apart erroneously - are CD, Carrier Disassembled and DBO, Disassembled By Owner. One interesting item to note is PBPE, 'Professional Books, Papers & Equipment'. This abbreviation is used mainly to call attention to items that pertain to the customer's livelihood and are thus, while perhaps not of high monetary value, are rather significant and therefore worthy of our careful attention.
The other two boxes up there near the top of the inventory sheet list abbreviations for noting damage to items we will be moving. These are all self-explanatory but require some getting used to, if only because there are so many of them to learn. Of course, there is no requirement for memorizing them, but think how much easier it would be to come across a tall dresser with a scratch across the top, a chip along the left side in the front, a loose back rear leg and a crack in the wood right below the bottom drawer and be able to write 'Tall Dresser - 10-SC, 4-5-9-CH, 7-8-6-L, 4-2-13-Z' without having to spend valuable minutes rolling your eyes all over the place trying to find the right letters and numbers to cover yourself in the event of a claim. Besides, there is only so much room on each line to note the damages on any particular piece, using three or four or five lines to explain what one line of abbreviations could say will only create more pages of inventory. And who wants more paperwork?
Commit to becoming a pro with these codes. You will be glad you did. (And so will your crew.)
And now, with all the specific codes burned into our brains, it's time to think
Outside the Boxes
It may go without saying (again) that each item to be moved should be numbered, tagged and listed separately. But what about the five removable bookcase shelves? The metal bed frame that we disassembled? The table with the legs we took off? Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your personality) there seem to be no hard and fast rules for instances like these. We've seen things done different ways, none of which we'd deem correct to the exclusion of all others. Of course some methods are more appropriate than others; eventually you'll have to use your discretion in striking a balance between quick and thorough when taking your inventory. And here are a few suggestions:
- If those five shelves are all in great shape you may not see a problem writing 'Bookcase Shelf x 5' as one item. It may be helpful, though, to then make sure you keep them together, wrap them all up in one pad for the truck. If one shelf has scratches, chips or cracks to note, consider writing it up as an item separate from the others.
- Metal bed frame parts can readily be listed as one item, and are manageable enough taped tightly together.
- Writing up a table as, simply, 'Table' may invite problems if you've removed the legs to avoid potential damage and/or save truck space. The table top and the legs might very well be loaded apart from each other; then during the unload, especially if the move is long-distance, the crew may figure there must be legs somewhere on the truck to go with that table top but then ten minutes later everyone, including the customer, has totally forgotten about those legs and if they are not listed separately they may go unnoticed and unaccounted for - until the customer decides he wants to put his table together and can't seem to find those legs.
(In this respect, re-assembling the customer's tables and beds and bookcases is not only good service, it is a way to make sure nothing has gone missing - or has gotten buried under a mound of furniture pads on the truck, never to be seen again.)
A couple of notes stemming from the above tips: A bed frame consisting of headboard, footboard and side rails should be listed as such, i.e. (1) Headboard, (2) Footboard and (3) Bed Rails x 2 (or list each side rail separately if preferred). While multiple shelves from a single bookcase can be listed as one item, multiple bookcases from one massive wall unit system should not. Same goes for a set of six dining room chairs or matching grandfather clocks (okay probably not going to happen but you get the picture).
Electronics and Other Things That Might Work
The majority of a customer's electronics will be packed in boxes. If the customer packed these items himself the most we can do is note, if possible, what electronics are inside their respective boxes.
But be aware: a computer box, packed by the customer, does not necessarily contain a computer. Check inside if you want to be sure one way or the other; open the box - and tell the customer why you are doing so, adding that you want to confirm there is in fact a computer in that carton in order to make sure it is handled with the proper amount of care. If we pack electronic items it might be a good idea (and if nothing else this goes a long way in looking professional) to write on the outside of the box the make, model and serial number of each item inside - and write the same on the inventory sheet. For electronics and other items that have batteries, plugs, engines or motors and are not packed in boxes, make, model and serial # can simply be noted on the inventory sheet, along with the aforementioned 'MCU'.
PBOs vs. CPs
As stated earlier, boxes will fall into one of two categories: PBO or CP. On the inventory sheet each box should be marked as one or the other. For CPs, note the size of the carton and, whenever feasible, a quick word on the contents of the box. Being adequately descriptive not only makes the customer feel more confident in your ability to keep close track of his stuff, but helps when you are done unloading and find that a box has not been checked off and you have to go look for it (which might erode a bit of the customer's aforementioned confidence in you but not as much as if you only know that 'a box' is missing).
Inventorying PBOs can present more of a challenge. The cartons we as movers use to pack come in a few standard sizes: 1.5, 3.0, 4.5, Dishpack, Mirror, Wardrobe and maybe a couple others. Customers, on the other hand, will manage to use boxes of infinite sizes and shapes; we can try to call each a 1.5 or a 3.0 or whatever seems closest but varying dimensions make this difficult. Or we can write Small, Medium or Large but eventually we'll realize that two boxes that are both 'small' are nowhere close in size while one marked small and one marked medium are almost the same size - rendering the process almost meaningless.
Also, remember that what is inside any given box may not match whatever picture might be on the outside. And if the customer is using boxes that have been used before on a move (or several moves) there could be writing all over the place and we can hardly tell what's really in the box or which room it goes to. Sometimes the customer won't even remember. (The upside to this is him or her then saying to us during the unload 'I don't know, just put it in the garage I guess,' which translates into fewer steps for the crew.)
But to the point made earlier, while the customer is legally/contractually responsible for all items (and any damage) when it comes to PBOs, if you notice a catastrophe in the making it might be to your advantage to step in and help avert it. The average customer will appreciate it. The curmudgeonly customer will grunt and moan and argue but will have to deal with it one way or another.
Curmudgeonly. Don't you mean unscrupulous?
No. But this is a good time to get into the scruple-challenged customer profile.
Case Study: The Case of the Missing Scruples
On the day of his long-distance move a customer decided, after the inventorying was complete and the truck was being loaded, that he wanted to ship four of his wardrobe cartons UPS instead of having them go on the truck with the rest of his load. (UPS would get his slacks and chambray button-downs to his new place much more quickly, and who knows when you'll need to throw on a chambray, right?) 'Fine,' said the lead crew guy, who set four wardrobes aside and, on the inventory sheets, put an X next to each of them, ostensibly a sign that these boxes no longer existed as part of the load. Now, under normal circumstances the lead guy might then go to the driver and tell him about those wardrobes. Under normal circumstances the driver would likely be doing the inventory himself. But this was the height of the summer moving season, when normal circumstances generally do not exist.
The driver who would be hauling this particular shipment was not there on load day; he had hauled the trailer out to the house the day before and left it there to go deliver another load. The next day, the load day, a crew went out to load the trailer. Afterward they went home, leaving the paperwork for the driver who was coming back the next day to haul the trailer away. On the other end of the highway the driver dropped off part of the shipment at a storage facility - as per normal procedure the receiving warehouseman checked off each box and item coming into storage and took copies of the inventory sheets. The driver then delivered the rest of the shipment to the customer's temporary apartment. This was where the customer began screaming about his four missing wardrobes.
The driver, of course, was at a loss. His trailer was empty and everything on the inventory sheets was checked off as having been delivered - either to the apartment or the warehouse, though it wasn't clear where as everything had been inventoried together instead of in two separate lots; only the word 'storage' on the cartons and the customer's directions on load day told the load crew what was going where at destination. The driver had only the customer's bingo sheet and his word to go on, so the only evident answer was that the four wardrobes had gone to the warehouse instead of the apartment. For the next three days that warehouseman was left to bang his head against his forklift while searching his mid-summer nightmare of a warehouse for those wardrobes. Did they get mixed up with a different shipment and end up being put away along with someone else's stuff? Did they mistakenly get put on a truck headed who-knew-where? According to the paperwork (and the wardrobes' non-existence at the customer's apartment) they had to be there somewhere - or had to have been at one point. Finally the lead guy from the load crew was located and contacted, and he explained where the wardrobes had gone. Armed with that fact we could then approach that scruple-less customer and shove his claim form down his own throat. Figuratively speaking of course.
How could all this have been avoided? Besides having separate inventories for storage and apartment the lead guy on the load should have made it clear those four wardrobes were never put on the truck - this he could have done by taking the stickers off those cartons and sticking them directly on the inventory sheets, next to where those wardrobes were listed. He could have also written a big VOID next to each, crossed them out and then had the customer initial next to each of them. Just writing in an X, even a big X, is inadequate. Later it would seem obvious that his four X's were different from the warehouseman's X's, but let's not require our fellow movers to be handwriting analysts. No matter how crazy and hectic, no matter how far from normal the circumstances, an extra moment or two to make your inventory top-notch can save a lot of time and headaches. And, quite possibly, the $10,000 one very unscrupulous customer might try to claim for his 'lost' clothes.
But back to the basics...
Customers run the scrutiny range when it comes to checking your inventory. Most will be generally attentive throughout the pack and load but will end up shaking their heads as they sign off on your list, no idea if your final inventory list is accurate or even in the ballpark. There will be those, however, who will arm themselves with all kinds of prepared lists, compare their box count to yours, pore over your notations on damage to every inch of their furniture and generally try to scare you into agreeing to write and do whatever they demand. But not to worry - you've done your job, and done it well. Just smile and invite them to check every line and word on your completed inventory sheets.
So we can then finally collect our tip and get out of there?
Look, you can get out of there as soon as you get your signatures. You should make sure you retain a copy of your inventory sheets for your records. To some this only makes sense; others think it's enough to hand the inventory sheets to the customer and wish them luck and hit the road. This, however, is not only unprofessional, it is risky. You should always keep copies of the inventories you perform; it is easy enough for the customer to lose theirs, or for someone to 'lose' that flat screen TV and pin the claim on you. And with no records of your own to refer to, how can you protect yourself? If you are using preprinted inventory forms that give you multiple copies of each page then you have ready-made records for you to take with you when you finish and leave the job. Otherwise you will need to make copies for yourself somewhere or - man you gotta love technology - take a photo with your smart phone of each page of inventory. (Just make sure they are in focus!) Print them out later, and save digital files too. When your customer gets that claim process rolling you'll be well-equipped to defend your good work.
By the way, tips are accepted. They are not collected.
As the crew who handles the front end of a long-distance move won't ever see the customer's stuff again once they've finished the load, you as the unload crew won't have seen anything until the truck or POD is opened. And in determining whether everything is accounted for you'll be at the mercy of the loader's inventory.
Faced with a trailer loaded with stuff that needs to get hauled inside and into this that and the other room and oh the entertainment center and the sectional sofa need to go down to the basement, the first and perhaps the only thing on the crew's minds is 'let's rock and roll and get it done'. But the customer's priorities, while he or she likely wants to get it over with as soon as possible too, lie in making sure everything has arrived in good shape - or at the very least arrived. Plus everything will have to be put in the correct room so he or she won't have to do it later, so the customer usually does not have or offer the luxury of standing by the truck checking off the number of each item as it comes off. But we are all well aware that until every item is checked off something might be missing. So spend a moment to make sure the customer marks his bingo sheet for every box and piece of whatever else before you stick it in a room somewhere among a pile of other items. It will take more than a moment to find it later.
Also helpful - or critical in the case of a shoddy inventory - is making sure #216 in your hands matches #216 on the inventory sheet. It is not unheard of for an inventory taker to miss a line or otherwise slip up so that he ends up writing the wrong description for one or two or an entire page of inventory numbers. Remember, this is the storage and moving industry, no one has been around long enough to have seen it all.
Inevitably, in the course of an unload you will come across an item or twenty with no number. Unless the item is particularly conspicuous - the lawn mower, or the top half of the dining room china hutch for example - set anything with no number to the side, to be reconciled at the end when everything else has been checked off. If, when all visible items have been checked off and there are still unchecked items on the inventory sheets, consider the possibility that those missing items could be hiding inside other items. We have found 3.0 cartons with lampshades and flower arrangements - extremely light and therefore easily missed - nestled inside wardrobes and wedged into empty trash cans. Recently a 'screws box' - a description which didn't make much sense to any of us at first - turned out to be one of those bench-top nuts and bolts cases with those tiny drawers, stashed and locked inside the bottom half of a large red rolling tool chest.
These are the kinds of things you simply cannot be aware of if you are not involved in the load - and when there are inventories involved you'll rarely be on both ends of the move - so a solid inventory list can prove to be a huge help...while a sub-standard inventory can put you and your crew through some tense, teeth-grinding times.
Remember this when you are the one making up the inventory.
Besides guarding against loss, an inventory, remember, is your best weapon in the fight against unwarranted, undeserved claims. So while you and the crew are running and gunning to get that trailer unloaded in record time, pay close attention to every carton and piece. Any suspicious conditions, from rattling boxes to loose table legs should be brought to the customer's attention before you start hauling these things through the house. Ideally you'll show the customer what you've noticed before you take these things off the truck but, as already alluded to, this is not always feasible. Still, showing the customer that crack in the side of the kid's dresser sooner than later is your best bet in avoiding responsibility for someone else's mistake. Maybe that crack was there before the move. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe the inventory taker made a note of it. Maybe he didn't. Assume nothing. Be aware. Be thorough. Be safe.
You mean cover your butt.
Yes you could put it that way...
When the truck is empty and the search has proven fruitless and one or more items are still missing, apologize to the customer but don't admit or deny guilt. Neither of these will get the customer what he wants, which is all of his stuff back. So tell him (or her) you will try to contact the other crew(s) involved in the move and see if an answer can be found. (This would have been a good first move in the Case of the Missing Scruples above.)
The owner of a moving company once quipped: 'What a ridiculous proposition, this business! The customer pays all that money, and for what? To get their own stuff back, except with a few more scratches...'
Every customer wants a perfect move. So do we. But this is not a perfect world, and we are not perfect animals. So the best we can do is keep track of the scratches on everything we touch - and try not to add any of our own. Oh, and make sure the customer does in fact get all his stuff back.
In this, taking a good and thorough inventory goes a long way.